WORLD

Syria air strikes: Trump hails 'perfect' mission

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US President Donald Trump has hailed an overnight military strike on Syria as “perfectly executed”, adding: “Mission Accomplished”.

The US, UK and France bombed three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

The strikes were in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”.

Russia, Syria’s main ally, had threatened military retaliation if any Russian forces had been hit.

In early morning tweets from Washington, President Trump thanked France and the UK for “their wisdom and the power of their fine military”.

He added: “So proud of our great military”, saying that after extra funding it would be “the finest our country has ever had”.

A Pentagon briefing on Saturday said the strikes had “set the Syrian chemical weapons programme back for years”.

In a Friday evening address to the nation from the White House, Mr Trump had said: “The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.”

The wave of strikes is the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

Responding to the strikes, Mr Assad said in comments published by his office: “This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country.”

Where was hit?

At a Pentagon briefing on Saturday, Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie listed the three targets that had been struck:

  • The Barzah chemical weapons research and development centre near Damascus was hit by 76 missiles, 57 of them Tomahawks. The target was “destroyed”
  • The Himshun Sar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs was hit by 22 “weapons” – US, UK and French
  • The Himshun Sar chemical weapons bunker facility near Homs was targeted with seven Scout missiles and was “successfully hit”

Gen McKenzie said the “initial indications are that we accomplished the military objectives without interference from Syria”.

He said “none of the aircraft or missiles were successfully engaged” by defence systems and all aircraft returned.

Gen McKenzie said about 40 Syrian defence missiles were fired, mostly after the targets were hit. No Russian defence systems were operated, he said.

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The Pentagon briefing conflicted with information given at a Russian defence ministry briefing, which said Russian units had tracked the actions of the US and UK forces but not the French.

It said “a number Syrian military airfields, industrial and research facilities” were hit.

The ministry said 103 cruise missiles had been launched and 71 were shot down by Syrian systems.

It accepted the “alleged chemical weapons facilities” near Damascus and Homs were “partially destroyed”.

The ministry said there were other locations that were targeted but not hit, including Damascus International Airport and the al-Dumayr and Blai airdromes, and the Shayrat air base.

Was anyone killed?

According to a Russian defence ministry statement, “preliminary information” said there had been no casualties among the Syrian army or civilians. The Pentagon said it also had no confirmation of any civilian casualties.

The US says the scale of the strikes was about “double” what was launched in April 2017 after a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people.

Will the strikes continue?

In his earlier address, President Trump had said: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

Defence Secretary James Mattis said that “right now, this is a one-time shot”.

The US had communicated with Russia ahead of the strikes through the normal procedures of their “deconfliction” hotline, which is used to prevent accidental clashes in a war zone with multiple international players.

There had been concerns that if the US strike had hit Russian military personnel on the ground, it would further escalate tension.

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Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the strikes did not “represent a change in US policy or an attempt to depose the Syrian regime”.

What role did the UK and France play?

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, four RAF Tornado jets hit a site near Homs with eight Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

Prime Minister Theresa May said there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force” but also added that the strikes were not about “regime change”.

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French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed his country’s participation in the operation.

“Dozens of men, women and children were massacred with chemical weapons,” he said of the Douma incident a week ago.

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Analysis: Will this time be different?

Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent

This attack was more significant than the US strike against a Syrian air base a little over a year ago, but at first sight seems more limited than President Trump’s rhetoric may have suggested.

Last year some 59 missiles were fired. This time a little over double that number were used.

The strikes are over for now, but there was a clear warning that if the Assad regime resorts to chemical weapons again, then further strikes may well follow.

Care was taken, say the Americans, to avoid both Syrian and “foreign” – for that read Russian – casualties.

But the fundamental questions remain. Will President Assad be deterred?

Last year’s US strike failed to change his behaviour. This time, will it be any different?

How has Syria responded?

Sana, Syria’s official state news agency, called the Western action “a flagrant violation of international law”.

“The American, French and British aggression against Syria will fail,” it said.

Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had dispatched a fact-finding team to the site of the alleged attack in Douma and was set to start work on Saturday. The mission would still go ahead, said the OPCW after the strikes.

What has the worldwide reaction been?

Reaction to the strikes was mixed among the international community.

President Putin said they were “an act of aggression”. The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet at 15:00 GMT at his request.

But the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Moscow says Russia’s statement that none of its military assets were threatened may suggest that any escalation through some sort of Russian retaliation has now been substantially reduced.

China said it opposed the use of force and that there could only be a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who had ruled out joining the military action – said she supported the strikes as “necessary and appropriate”.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted support for the strikes, saying those who use chemical weapons “must be held accountable”.

Nato said it would hold a special meeting on Saturday.

US Senator John McCain applauded Mr Trump for taking military action. The leading Republican and former prisoner-of-war, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is often critical of the president.

Other US politicians argued that President Trump should come before Congress and receive authorisation for the use of military force.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned member nations to “act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general”.

“I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances.”

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BBC News – World

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